Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Coaching For Success: It's The How, Not The What

Most Sales Managers accept the premise that the majority of salespeople will achieve their sales goals if they follow a focused and disciplined sales process combined with flawlessly executed consultative sales skills. Unfortunately, based on my experience working with hundreds of sales professionals, there isn’t a lot of evidence to suggest that Sales Managers are providing direction and feedback on anything but the sales process (“what to do/not to do” - goals, priorities, reports, etc.), leaving salespeople isolated to figure out “how to” execute the process using their existing, sometimes ineffective, sales strategies and skills.

I’ve often heard the argument that “experienced” salespeople don’t need to be coached on “the how” because they are hired and paid for their existing sales skills. This way of thinking can lead to not only frustrated salespeople, but average results with salespeople stuck in the “comfort zone,” unable to adapt to a dynamic, highly competitive landscape.

A recent conversation I had with a Sales Manager highlights the nature of the problem and his lack of understanding of how salespeople develop, refine their skills and achieve breakthrough sales results:

Me: How are you coaching your salespeople?
Sales Manager: I have weekly meetings.

What happens at the meetings?
I put up the results, you know the pipeline, and everyone gets to see how well they are doing relative to each other.

How do you see this as coaching?
The salesperson who’s at the bottom knows where he stands; can see that his performance is, you know, “light.”

OK, I agree some “peer pressure” can motivate, but what do you think he’ll do differently as a result of his ranking at the bottom?
I’m hoping he’ll fill his pipeline.

How do you think he’ll do that?
He’s got to get better on execution.

What type of execution?
Prospecting. We are unknown in this marketplace and he’s not very good at getting in the door with prospects.

Have you coached him on this?
Yes, I told him he needs to see at least five prospects per week.

In the above example, the Sales Manager tells the salesperson “what to do” (make five prospect calls per week), but fails to address the more likely underlying problem: the salesperson’s struggle with the same old obstacles, using old habits and ineffective strategies and skills. Obviously, the salesperson will try harder because he is under greater pressure to fill the pipeline, but he may not succeed if he doesn’t have the skills to gain meetings with prospects.

I’m flabbergasted during sales training when I hear I’m the ONLY person who provides skills development feedback. After skills coaching, it’s not unusual for me to hear a resounding “thank you” and comments such as:

“I don’t get any coaching, except when my numbers are down, and then my manager sends me an email saying that I need to quickly improve.”
“No one ever tells me what I’m doing right.”
“I wish I had this feedback years ago. It’s nice to know that I can improve, because I’ve been so frustrated.”

If you are a Sales Manager, you need to hear this! The “what to do” is not the “how to do it.” Salespeople are starving for developmental skills coaching! Now I don’t mean that they need feedback on sales goals, results, wins, losses, etc., you probably already provide enough of that. Salespeople are hungry for direct, specific and practical coaching on what they are doing that’s effective, and what they ought to be doing to increase effectiveness. This type of coaching is skills development coaching.

Success in today’s dynamic marketplace requires a greater focus on skills, such as effectively persuading prospects to meet, determining needs and priorities, focused listening, differentiating the organization beyond price, sales planning and negotiation skills. Sales Managers who can help their salespeople develop these skills accept their full responsibility to ensure salespeople have the focus, discipline, and highly refined strategies and skills to thrive.

No comments: